“Mirror, mirror on the wall: who’s the fairest of them all.” This little ditty we know from the classic tale of Snow White. But it could easily be the theme of the book of Hebrews.
The author of this book has been seeking to convince his Jewish audience that Jesus is the fairest of all. He is the culmination of their religion and the greatest revelation God could ever give.
So far we’ve seen how he is greater than angels and prophets. The first two chapters have impressed from every angle possible that no angel could be fairer. Here in chapter three the author turns to address how Jesus is fairer than Moses.
Just think of some of the things that his resume would have boasted. He was chosen by God to be the lead the people out of Egypt. He is the one to whom God gave the law. This law was so closely identified with him that it was called the “Law of Moses.” Along with that he authored the first five books of the Bible and a number of Psalms. Most importantly, it is said of Moses that he was the meekest man who ever lived and he was the only one who is ever said to have spoken with God “face to face.”
Certainly, there are other items to note of his life. But just this simple list is enough to show that he is the heavyweight champion of OT saints. Even guys like Abraham and King David begin don’t even begin to compare with the greatness of Moses.
So, there is no wonder then that the author of this epistle puts Jesus and Moses side by side. These verses that we just read would have been perhaps the clinching argument for some of his readers. They no doubt would have to concede that Jesus was most certainly to be the heart of a Jew’s faith.
Even today, when we study what is said here, we see how Jesus rises above Moses; for he sits at the core of our calling, our confession, our communion and our continuance.
Look at the way this chapter opens. In verse 1 he addresses his audience. He calls them, “holy brothers” and “partakers of a heavenly calling.” And in doing so he reminds them of their calling as a people. And, implicitly, he reminds them how Jesus is at the heart of that calling.
I. Jesus is at the heart of our calling [1a]
Think about the word “holy” and how that was a word that was etched deeply in their minds. The idea of holiness is one of the grand themes of the Old Testament. God’s people were called to be a “holy nation.” That is to say, they were called to be separate from sin. They were called to be holy because God had set them apart from the rest of the world. And everywhere you read how they were called to “Be holy even as I the Lord your God am holy.”
But if there is one thing that the OT revealed, it was that Israel was anything but holy. If you read the OT carefully, what you’ll find is that this whole holy thing was quite elusive. They were always called to be holy, but never did they ever realize it or evidence true holiness.
That’s because holiness doesn’t come naturally to sinful people. The law that Moses gave told them to be holy, but it never made them holy. Holiness is something that can only be created within us by God once he deals with the inward foulness of our sinful nature. And that is what we gain through Jesus Christ. Christ is at the heart of our calling because it is only through him that our sin can be eradicated. There is nothing in the Law of Moses or any other part of the Old Testament that could afford this. It was every commanding it, but never enabling it.
So our calling to be holy requires Christ. But it’s not just our holiness calling, it’s also our heavenly calling.
It says here that we are people who share in a “heavenly calling.” Now, this too is something that puts Christ at the center. Remember that we are called to a future kingdom, a kingdom that could never be erected here in this world.
When God called Abraham he made him a promise. God said he would give him a land. But when Abraham died, what did he have? All he had was a gravesite. That’s it. When Moses led the people, what did he lead them too? It was to the Promised Land. He was to lead them to a land that was flowing with milk and honey. But, for one, Moses himself never got into that land. You remember that he only got to look at it from afar. What’s more, the people never ultimately inherited the land. Even at the zenith of power under Solomon, they never realized the full scope of God’s promise.
Part of that is because it was never ultimately about a sliver of desert country in the Middle East that we call Israel. The promise made to Abraham and Moses has to be seen in light of Genesis 3 and the promise to crush the head of the Serpent. The promises to Abraham and Moses are salvific. They pointed further to the final salvation God would bring us in glory. We’ll even read later in Hebrews that Abraham didn’t ultimately have his eyes set on that land we call Israel. He longed for a “better country, a heavenly one.”
And that is what Christ gives us. We are partakers of a “heavenly calling.” We are looking for the fusion of heaven and earth, when paradise is restored. We are looking well beyond the land that Moses was trying to give us to the kingdom of glory. And only the saving power of Christ can grant it to us. Only the Messiah can guarantee those promises.
That’s why he lies at the heart of our calling. And that is part of the reason why Jesus is greater. But Jesus is greater than Moses, not only because he is at the heart of our calling, but because he is at the heart of our confession too.
II. Jesus is at the heart of our confession [1b-2]
Look again at the first two verses. Look at how it zeros us in on Jesus. “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house.”
Who is it that we confess? It’s not Moses. It’s Jesus.
To be sure, Moses is a great man in the life of Israel. And here in these two verses there are a number of things that are said that are true of both Jesus and Moses. Both are apostles, both were high priests, and both were faithful.
The word apostle just means “sent one.” And that is true of both guys. Jesus was an apostle because he sent by the Father. This is something that John testifies to a number of times in his gospel. And Moses was an apostle too, in that he was sent by God to the Israelites to be their deliverer and leader.
Both Jesus and Moses were high priests too. We don’t typically think of Moses as a high priest. We usually associate Aaron with that office. But even though Moses didn’t bear the title and wear all the clothes of a high priest, he certainly acted in that capacity to a great degree. Who is it that we see interceding on the behalf of the Israelites all the time? It was Moses. Moses was the one who held his hand aloft and prayed while Joshua fought the Amalekites, wasn’t he? And think about the golden calf incident. It was Moses who interceded on their behalf and kept God from wiping them off the face of the planet. Moses certainly acted in a high priestly capacity during his life.
And along with being an apostle and priest, both of these guys were faithful in all God’s house. The idea of a house here is just a figurative way of talking about God’s people. In the OT the people of God were sometimes called “the house of Israel.” And the church is God’s house too, because he lives in us. But the point here is that Jesus is faithful to serve and lead God’s people just as Moses was faithful to serve and lead God’s people in his day.
But there is one thing—at least one major thing—that separates Moses and Jesus. It is this: Jesus is the one we confess; he’s the one at the heart of our faith.
Even though Moses did a lot of good things—even though he acted as an apostle and a high priest and was faithful, he was never “confessed” or made the central focus of anyone’s faith.
The word confession here means “to make a formal, public declaration.” It is to make a statement of faith, so to speak. As the book of Romans says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Each week, we “confess our faith” using the Heidelberg Catechism. What are we doing there? We are declaring what we believe, are we not?
And I think that the author here in these first two verses is reminding us that Moses, even though he was among a stalwart among the OT patriarchs, was never the center of anyone’s faith. When Israel confessed their faith, they raised their pinky fingers to heaven and said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
They did not say, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your Moses is one…” The people did not profess Moses as the center of their belief system. Moses is inferior to Jesus in that manner. Even though he was a great man, he was still just a man. The people of Israel could follow Moses. They could hearken to his words. They could even come and speak to him. But they did not believe in him, trust in him or confess him to be their God and Savior. He was merely a type and a shadow of the one to come.
That’s the point that is being driven home in these first two lines. Jesus is a “confessable one.” He is to be at the heart of our faith because, as God, he is a greater Apostle and a greater High Priest.
But Jesus is not just at the heart of our calling and confession. He’s also at the heart of our communion. And this is another reason why Jesus is greater than Moses.
III. Jesus is at the heart of our communion [3-6a]
In verses 3-6 the author points out that the people of God owe their existence as a body, as a communion, not to Moses, but to Jesus. The communion we enjoy as God’s people is not (nor was it ever previously) dependent upon a man. It was always and forever will be based on the supreme power and Providence of Christ.
He gets at this in two ways. The first way is noted in verse 3 where it talks about Jesus being due more glory even as the builder of the house is to receive more honor than the house itself.
Now understand the parallel that he is making here. Jesus is to builder of the house as Moses is to the house itself. Again, the house is an image and metaphor for the people of God.
What is Jesus? He is the builder of the house. He is the one who makes our fellowship together possible. When God came to Abraham, he said, “I will make you a great nation. I will make you to be as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” So God was promising to build the house of Israel. And the author here is saying that it was Jesus who was doing this all along.
Moses, on the other hand, was just a part of the house. Even though he played a major role in the nation of Israel, when it all is said and done, he was just another Israelite.
It is kind of like our president. The president of the United States might have a prominent role in the life of our country, but he is still considered an American citizen. It’s the same with Moses. He was a great leader, but he was still just a Jew and a member of the house of Israel.
And you then ask, who is greater, the one who is building Israel or the one who is a part of Israel? Well, the answer is obvious.
The author then makes virtually the same point in the verses 5-6. He says that Jesus has one up on Moses because Moses is merely a servant while Jesus is a son. Now, when it comes to a house, what is a son? He’s the heir. He’s the owner. In ancient times you could have different levels of slaves. You could be a lowly slave or you could be a high ranked slave. But you were still a servant! You never ascended to the point of heir and owner.
So you see how Christ is central to our communion. Christ upholds the church as the builder of God’s people. He may even be said to be our owner as he is our Lord.
Moses can’t even begin to compare with that.
But there is one more thing said here that is very important to notice. It’s found in the last part of verse 6. We’ve talked about how Jesus is central to our calling. We’ve seen how he is at the heart of our confession. We’ve also just noted how he is fundamental aspect of our communion. But in the last part of verse 6 the author reminds us that Jesus is the vital part of our continuance.
IV. Jesus is at the heart of our continuance
It says, “And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”
You see the main word here is the word “if.” It is a conditional statement. It is the hinge upon which this sentence turns. We are this house only if we hold fast. If we do not hold fast, then we are not part of this house. And then what? Well, we lose everything! We are damned.
This is really brought out in the words that the authors use here. The language he uses in this verse is really good. You’ll notice that he says that they need to hold fast to their “confidence.” The word confidence actually refers to one’s “freedom of speech.” We as Americans are pretty high on freedom of speech. We love it that we have rights to say certain things anytime we want.
Well this confidence is referring to our freedom of speech before God. It has to do with our access to God. We have access to speak to God directly. Why is that? It is because Christ has given us that.
This kinda parallels Moses again. You may remember that Moses was one who was distinct in that he got to speak to God “face to face.” God even said, “When I speak to a prophet I reveal myself in visions, but when I speak to Moses I speak to him face to face.” In other words, Moses had incredible access to God. But no one else in Israel had that kind of access. Everyone else was blocked off by curtains and walls because God was in the holy of Holies. And Moses could not give them that direct access he had.
Well, Christ gives us that same sort of access. We have “freedom of speech” before God because Christ has torn the veil and granted us the ability to come to God freely.
And if we don’t hold on to Christ, we lose this privilege.
The passage also says we are to hold fast “our boasting in our hope.”
Our hope, of course, is that future day when Christ will come again. It is the hope of the resurrection and the life to come. Some of you will have something a little different than mine. Where mine says boasting you may have the word rejoicing. The Greek word can really mean both. It has the idea of reveling in something or glorying in it.
You know the football players, whenever they make the big catch or score the big touchdown, they do their silly dances in the end zone. They parade about in an exuberate fashion. Some call it pride, and they say, “Hey, that guy is just boasting.” Others call it rejoicing; they are just celebrating the big play.
So, if you think about it that way, you might be able to see how the term then can be taken to be rejoicing or boasting. The word here is describing the attitude of sheer delight that is ours as a result of the hope that death will not be the end to our lives.
But again, this hope, this confidence, our continuance in the house is all dependent upon one thing: Our faith in Christ. Drop that one thing and there is nothing to look forward to in the life to come.
So this last line serves as a good warning. Jesus is at the heart of our continuance. If we want to continue in God’s house and enjoy eternal life and eternal access to his presence, then we must never let go of Christ.
For, as we have seen here, He is the heart and soul of our faith.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.